The Cooperative Art Coach Tour

The Old Paintshop, Renshaw Street
16th October 2010

Reviewed by Tom Bottle

A simple but excellent idea from the The Cooperative, so simple and excellent no one hardly tries it. A three hour coach tour of art venues and artist studios giving the masses (fourteen of us) a peek into the mysterious world of the artist, and the chance to natter among ourselves. A good mix of the arty, the curious, the hard to please, and a Spanish lad and his girl, up from London and just happening by.

The Cooperative are seven art groups in the Renshaw Street starting point - fronted by Nathan Jones from Mercy - who have a rolling show which changes weekly throughout the Biennial. The eye catcher this time is a long sheet of giant white scribbled-on wallpaper rising to the roof with maps stuck to the wall. The kind of thing that creases gobs and raises eyebrows but I quite liked it. Something about maps mapping more than geographical landscapes and maybe mapping emotions too. Reminded me of a book which argued we are more connected to people in history with similar emotional traits than to our own families. I sent the author an e-mail saying he’s got my vote, and three days later he phoned half way through my tea and the Lily Savage Experience on the telly.

Meanwhile, boarding the mini bus we set off for The Lost Soul & Stranger Service Station, which is the old barber shop in School Lane, if you know it. A tiny gallery where old LP covers hid the faces on them with masks made from coiled and coloured plasticine. A comment on celebrity, and from a quick take of group temperature, a thumbs up!

It’s the little things that make these things work so its heart warming to see the driver has the old school chivalry to jump out at every stop, open the door, and guide us to terra firma with the aid of a portable footstool. Touches like that, you remember (Drat! No name or number on the side of van to pass on recommendations). On the way to Arena Studios, Nathan bungs on a mock commentary of passing artistic sights to keep us on the boil.

Out comes the footstool and in we go to the highlight of the tour. No, not the artworks but where they are made. The small, £100 a month, Arena artist cubicles fascinating to nose around are a real treat because they are so personal and therefore interesting. Not many have gone the Francis Bacon whole hog and turned them into creative pigsties but some are showing potential. In the cuppa downstairs talk turns to the Biennial in general where the extreme minimalist showing in FACT clocking on for a year gets mullered. A friendly bunch not top heavy with students or the Wirral element includes an art historian, a philosophy student, a delightful elderly couple who describe themselves as boyfriend and girlfriend (“When we go to the Bluecoat we just write ‘Rubbish’ when we sign the book”), an amateur photographer, and some lively impressionists from the Kirkby and Croxteth schools. That’s as well as the lucky London lovers who chanced by. All choreographed with a light touch by The Cooperative Boys.

Back on the road to the Royal Standard Studio’s and art space for Hierarchies of Allegiance, the ‘Sunday words’ title of a three man show. Jonathan Baldock gives a talk about his knitted figurative sculptures (photo above) which to the untrained ear can sound a bit flaky, flying in one and out the other. Full marks to the lad, though, and the directors, for taking on the public (a bit quiet) in what can only be described as a nil-nil draw. Pil and Galia Kollectiv’s video of robotic figures marching around urban town centres to discordant but compelling music I only caught five minutes of. I must go back, especially when I read later that it takes in the IKEA riots of November 2005 as a starting point. Remember them? What was that all about?!

Back at The Cooperative, Renshaw Street, it’s down the footstool for the last time and hugs and kisses all round, not. A shakedown of what we all thought would have been nice, even one of Nathan’s poems he gave the last lot but nay, just our memories of a spiffing few hours of another world. Artists, they’re real people y’know.

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